“What do you do with your losses?”
I remember reading this sentence in Henri Nouwen’s book With Burning Hearts about eight months ago and thinking, “Yes, Henri. Please tell me: what can be done with our losses?”
Those who are in pain tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the purposes pain serves, what we might do with it, what is happening to us when we are in it, if we actually have to pass through (instead of around) it… and many other questions like this. And it could not be a more human thing to do – to ask questions and interrogate our pain. Though I don’t think it’s essential for us to understand pain for it to transform us, I have been thinking a lot this past year about why pain transforms us and what is happening when we are in the dark nights of our souls.
I really enjoy the less visible people in stories, and as I was considering pain and broken-heartedness, I was reminded of a man mentioned in the Bible named Simeon. Simeon shows up only very briefly in the New Testament around the time Jesus was born. The particular story in which he shows up is where Jesus has just been circumcised (welcome to the world, Jesus!) and Mary and Joseph were faithfully carrying out all the Jewish ceremonies around having a new baby. Only a few things are said about Simeon: 1) He was a just and devoted man; 2) he was a man who had very eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Anointed One because of the promised liberation he would bring, and 3) he was very attuned to the Spirit. The story in Luke chapter 2 says that Simeon woke up that day feeling prompted by the Spirit to go to the temple, so he did. And there his dream came true.
He held Jesus in his arms, this newborn who would do things Simeon would never see in his Earthly lifetime. I like to imagine that, in looking into this little baby’s eyes and holding his warm little body, Simeon could perhaps see in that moment all that would come to pass – the pain, the freedom, the vastness. I like to imagine he could see and feel all the surrender, the opening, the One-ing, and the freedom that would come through the life of this sweet, brand new child who was the Light of the Cosmos. This tiny body of the One who manifested all things from poetry and stardust would grow up to be pierced and torn apart by hatred and addiction to certainty. So helpless and utterly dependent, this baby would become the man who would entangle Himself with all humankind for their total, unstoppable liberation. As Simeon was standing there after seeing this, he says, “I can die in peace now.”
Then out of the space of this deeply life-changing moment, Simeon looks at Mary and essentially says to her: He will pierce human hearts. And out of those pierced hearts will pour the secrets of humankind. He will pierce even your soul, Mary.
Can you imagine?
This tells me something about what we might do with our losses – our pierced and broken hearts. When our hearts are broken, we cannot help but see what is inside them. We cannot help but see exposed thoughts, feelings, defenses, fears, loves… Some of these will not be surprising, some of these will be total strangers to us, and I daresay some of these will be downright terrifying. But what is Human Life if we do not allow ourselves to see and integrate all the pieces of ourselves into the whole that is the True Self? We are left incomplete and fragmented. We might tell ourselves that we’re good just knowing what is easy to know. But that's simply not true. The things about us that are the hardest to see are the very things that are our greatest teachers. And perhaps our greatest liberators.
When our hearts are pierced and broken and our secrets pour out of our wounds, we can name them accurately and truthfully. And this is not so we can wallow and fester in our shame, but so we can make them available to the healing power of the Light. In fact, the most integral aspect of of Jesus’s liberation mission as the Light of the Cosmos is to shine this healing light on human hearts. Heart wounds, by definition, open closed hearts. We feel vulnerable in pain because, well, we are. While our social and cultural constructs have instructed us that vulnerability and authenticity is scary and bad, it is only this kind of opening that allows the transformative Light of the Cosmos to freely make its way into us.
One of my favorite recorded statements Jesus ever makes is found in John 8:12: I am the Light that shines through the cosmos; if you walk with Me, you will thrive in the Nourishing Light that gives Life and will not know darkness.
So what do we do with our losses? We name the wounds, the piercings, the pains. And we look upon and listen to the secrets that pour out of them. We face ALL the things we see (not just the “pretty” ones) with confidence and assurance, trusting that somehow the Light heals because that’s what is promised. Heartbreak gives us the opportunity to become more receptive people – exposing us to what we need; opening us to growth, expansion, birth; and helping us make space for all things within us and around us to belong, even the tensions and longings that scare us.
In what ways does your heart stand pierced and broken, asking to be heard? Can you look at the secrets, those precious and sacred teachers, and allow their authenticity to lead you toward your own integration and liberation? If it feels overwhelming, that's okay. What is just one thing you can choose to name and hold today?